With all the buzz surrounding mobile websites and mobile applications, its hard to know which one is best for your business. This week’s article focuses on the differences between mobile websites and apps, and how to decide what is right for your business and your customers.

Mobile Websites and Apps: What’s the Difference?

Mobile apps are applications that are downloaded and installed on a mobile device, rather than being accessed through an Internet browser. Users visit device-specific portals, such as Apple’s App Store, Android Market or Blackberry App World to find and download apps for a given operating system.

A mobile website is basically a simplified version of the main website that is accessed via the Internet. To learn more about mobile websites, please read Mobile Website Development Best Practices by Malyna Senger. Below is an example of the CNN standard and mobile website pages.

In general, a mobile website should be considered your first step in creating a mobile online presence. Apps are useful for creating applications for a specific use that cannot be accomplished using a web browser.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Mobile Websites and Apps:

  • Availability and compatibility: Mobile websites are available to users across a variety of devices via Internet browser. Users must access app stores specific to their operating system in order to download and install apps prior to being able to access the content.
  • Ability to update: Changes to mobile websites are visible to all users as soon as content managers publish them. Updates for apps must be first approved by the market (app store administrators) and then downloaded by the users before changes are accessible.
  • Accessibility: Mobile websites can be accessed through search engine results or industry-specific directories. For the most part, apps are only accessible through app stores. Mobile websites require users to have Internet connection, while some apps can work in offline mode.
  • Reach: Mobile website URLs can easily be shared by users via a link. Apps cannot be shared in this way, but as they are purchased through the phone manufacturer’s app store, they are easily visible to consumers.
  • Cost: Mobile websites are cost effective, as its ‘one-site-fits-all.’ App may need to be developed to be available for a number of different operating systems, which can greatly increase costs.